Two Computing Books I’ve Read Before

There are many computing books I’ve read before, but there are two I thought would be interesting to share.

The first is “Mind at Play: The Psychology of Video Games” and the second is “The Inmates Are Running the Asylum: Why High Tech Products Drive Us Crazy and How to Restore the Sanity”.

Mind at Play: The Psychology of Video Games

I read the first book in my teens from the school library (TKSTS) when I was crazy writing games in the mid 80s.  It didn’t teach me how to write games as far as programming languages were concern, but it explored what made people tick.  What makes games compelling?  Why do people play games?  Back in those days, it was a gem, for it gave insights into how I could design the games I was writing to make it interesting and fun.  Challenging and not insurmountable, rewarding and not trivial.  How to get others hooked onto my game?

Now as a monk, I think back about that book and ponder about how there are much parallel between what the author discovered and shared in the book and what the Buddha taught 2500++ years ago.  Understanding how people get hooked onto games, offers some insight into how people get hooked into other things and concerns.  In turn, it helps me appreciate the Buddha’s teaching on how people can get unhooked, not just from games but also from the things and attachments that binds and bogs us down.

The Inmates Are Running the Asylum: Why High Tech Products Drive Us Crazy and How to Restore the Sanity

This is an interesting book I read when I was working in R&D as a software engineer in the late 90s.  It explores Human-Computer-Interaction instead of Human-Computer-Interface.  The crux of the book is about relooking computer software design, not as an after thought or bug fix, but as a key project goal.  To design computer software, targeted at real user personas and not just code an app against a checklist of functions.

This is, to me, a must-read for any designers, computer or otherwise.  The design tips goes beyond computer software applications and is equally applicable to other design fields as well.

The Asylum book is really a good design book to read.  Maybe for those who are into designing, this book would be a fun read as well.  For me, it was rather insightful and offered a fresh alternative approach towards software development.

Take a look, and let me know what you think.

Meanwhile, I’ve a pet project coming up for Vesak. 😉


Check Your Motivation

A sharing from a Buddhist on Checking One’s Motivation to become a monk.


“So what makes you want be a monk?” the nun asked me back

I explained to her that my Lama had previously done a divination for me: I was a monk in my previous life

“So I wanna continue the good work that I did in my previous life, and I thought that life as a layman is quite a waste of my past life’s efforts” I explained


Read it here …

Vesak 2554

Dear Boys and Girls,

Vesak 2554 will be celebrated at Ngee Ann City on 8th &
amp; 9th May 2010.

The working committee has put in hours of sweat, tears and hard work to put up this year’s Vesak celebration.  So kudos to them.

I was roped in recently by Ven. Kwang Phing to assist him as vice-chair.  I hestitated as my Dharma teaching commitments are already filling up my week, but I still agreed to assist where I can and attended my first meeting as vice-chair.  To my surprise and relief, much of the planning and work had already been completed, so my concerns were unfounded.

Well, the tickets for the Food & Funfair should be going around now, so get yours today!


There are those who believe that we mortal humans cannot amount to much, that we are imperfect and doomed to suffer.

But then one person stood up and overcame human failings and perfected Himself.  He became known as the Buddha, the Awakened One.


Come down to Ngee Ann City to commemorate the Victory of the Buddha, in this weekend of celebration and inspiration!


How to Decide on a Task, Project or Goal?


Today I’m going to share a simple simple way to approach a task, project or goal.  More accurately, I’m focusing on the initial decision process.

A project can be split into a few parts such as

  1. Envisioning & Planning
  2. Development & Implementation
  3. Testing & Feedback

Different project management methodologies are abound, and you may be familiar with others that are similar or different, each with different focus and strengths.  Take note that this post is not about project management, it is about making that initial decision to do or not to do the project.  This can be done at the Envisioning stage and should culminate with the Planning stage.

Since the very first meeting in secondary school I’ve ever sat in to discuss and decide on whether or not a project or activity be carried out, I’ve noticed a certain trend.  Most initial meetings start with someone sharing the bright idea for a project or something and quite quickly degenerates into a wack-the-mole exchange of debate over why the project will fail for various reasons.  If you have ever been in such meetings and would like a different (read: more effective) approach, read on.

The above trend actual happen in many club, society and sometimes even in corporate meetings.  Eventually, the project does get started, but not before everyone feel down and disheartened about how they are starting a project that is seen as doomed to fail.

Typical meeting:

Person A: We have this idea “A”.  blah blah … [details about what it is]

Person B: This will not work because of “B”

Everyone start thinking of how to counter B.  When B seem somewhat resolved, person C comes up with something.

Person C: But it seems like we will have problem with “C”, so we should not do “A” or that “B” will still fail.

One more nail in the project coffin.  All we need is someone to start the fire and we can cremate the project and go for a movie already.

Everyone start debating or arguing about C, D, E, F, G … .

This can go on for hours and the team will still not have decided on whether they wish to start the project or not.  No decisions  made, the meeting is adjourned.  The team members will disheartened or bitter while some become suspicious of each other’s intent and integrity.

What is happening here? What went wrong and what can be done instead?

The usual questions or factors that come up are usually the “Who, What, When, Where and How”.  We learn in secondary school, the five W and one H right?  The above are the implementation details.  I’m not saying that they are unimportant.  They are important, but only when you have decided to do the project.  If you have not even decided yet, why even bog yourself down with the implementation details?

“But how do you decide whether to do a project without knowing if it can be done?”

To that, I say, you are mixing up “How to do it?” (Implementation) with “Why we do it?” (Mission, Reason, Motivation).

For example, consider a group of friends going for a meal.   This is their weekly gathering and they decided to meet on Friday at 6pm for a meal at Suntec followed by movies at 9pm.  They will meet at the new Zen restaurant after work.

  • Who: Group of friends
  • What: Outing – Meal and Movie
  • When: Friday at 6pm
  • Where: Suntec, Zen restaurant
  • How: Travel – drive individually, Food – Zen, Movie – Eng Wah Cineplex (it’s been years! What is at Suntec??)
  • Why: This is part of their weekly gathering.  Friends meeting up weekly.

In this case, when they decide to meet up, it is because of friendship, because of the company they enjoy with each other.  They don’t necessarily meet up or not because it is cheaper or not.  Although, having decided that they want to meet up, they may later decide that they cannot do so because of the ‘implementation details’.  Maybe the restaurant or movie is not ideal, or the timing is bad etc.  These are reasons why they are unable to have their outing, and not that they do not want.  While the results are the same, that the outing did not happen, the reasons are different.  They may decide that they do not want to meet up or that they are unable to meet up.

If they decide that they do not want to meet up, then even if they can, they would not.  Whereas, if they are unable to meet up, they would try to make adjustments to the ‘implementations’ and finally still meetup.  In the former, the ‘implementations’ often end up as excuses for not meeting up while in the latter, the ‘implementations’ become something they resolve to reach their goal of meeting up.

Going Somewhere

Let’s look at another scenario: Going on a vacation.  The reason we want to go on a holiday is one thing but the 4WH will influence our decision on when, where and how our vacation will take place.

If you want to go on a holiday, then the 4W+H will be adjusted to fulfill this goal.  Otherwise the 4W+H will become reasons why you do not go on a holiday.

Which statements do you make:

  1. “I’m not going to Singapore because I cannot afford it!”
  2. “I want to go to visit Singapore, but because of the cost, I will save up for the next 3 ~ 6 months and be able to go on my vacation then!”

Is it Feasible?

By now you should be very clear with the distinction between why one would want to do something as compared to how it can be done.  The former in general comprises the “benefits” of achieving that goal while the latter is the “cost” of doing it.  The benefits gives people reasons for doing a project while the costs helps them consider the feasibility of achieving the project.

Wanting to achieve a goal, one then consider the present conditions to find
out how feasible it is to do so.  After that, he then make plans to solve implementation details to make the plans feasible.


When we come into Buddhism, a common situation is that we may become overwhelmed by the precepts and practices.  This can sometimes dishearten us when we consider how difficult these precepts and practices are.  Other times we may not know why or how the practices and precepts are even relevant at all.  While we may try very hard but we are actually approaching Buddhism with the same approach mentioned above.  Instead of considering the qualities and benefits of the goal, we are being bogged down by the “feasibility factors” and “implementation details”.

For most people, it is helpful to know the proper path and goal of Buddhism, and appreciate the goal and destination of Buddhism before even embarking on the “project” itself.  That to me, is how the Buddha deliver it to us, in the form of the Four Noble Truths!

Current Situation – Noble Truth of Suffering, Noble Truth of Cause of Suffering

Goal – Noble Truth of Cessation of Suffering

Solution – Noble Truth of the Path leading to the Cessation of Suffering

While the Four Noble Truths are often taught as Basic Buddhism, I consider it as the core, the essence of Buddhism.  If one truly understands Suffering, its Cause, and how wonderful Nirvana (Pali: Nibbana) is compared to our present state, then the path becomes part of our ToDo list and not the reasons why we cannot take refuge or observe the precepts.  We won’t say “we cannot do it because it is too difficult” or unknowingly dismiss the Buddhist practices as irrelevant if only because we had become a victim of self-defeating attitude.

So the next time the thought “it cannot work or be done” pops up in your mind, think again.  First ask yourself “Why am I doing it?” and not “How difficult is it?”.  When you have decided that the goal (whether worldly or supramundane) is worthwhile, then find out how feasible your present conditions are and determine the variance between the required conditions and your present conditions.  Finally, set a doable todo list to narrow the variance.

Then it becomes “I’m doing it because of this and in order to achieve it, I need to do A, B, C, … … “.  The obstacles become the path.  Then there are no obstacles, only choices and steps towards our eventual goal, Nirvana.

Earthquakes in the Past Few Weeks

Today, an 6.0-magnitude earthquake struck Turkey.  This follows the series of earthquakes that occurred in the past few weeks.  It is easy for us to forget how fortunate we are to have whatever peace and safety we presently have, until we see how terribly wrong things can turn out.

In the “Sutra on the Eight Great Realization of Great Beings” 《佛說八大人覺經 》, the first stanza of the first realisation is


The world is impermanent, the country and land are fragile.

Let us not take things for granted and assume things will be, must be or should be in a certain manner tomorrow just because it is today.  For all are impermanent, and that which is impermanent is subject to change.  Something that is subject to change, tends more towards agitation than not.  Something that is subject to change and tends towards agitation brings uncertainty, anxiety and unease.  This in turn does not promote happiness.

If we forget this, we become complacent and start having presumptions about things and people around us.  We become used to how things are and when they suddenly change, or more rightly exhibit significant change, we fret, we tremble, we are vexed.


Earthquakes in the past few weeks
Please join me in dedicating to those who perished or are still suffering.

8 March 2010 – Strong quake hits eastern Turkey

TURKEY — A strong earthquake has struck eastern Turkey, killing at least 38 people, officials have said.

The 6.0-magnitude earthquake struck the village of Basyurt in Elazig province at 0432 (0232 GMT). It was followed by several aftershocks.

4 March 2010 – Strong earthquake hits Taiwan; injuries reported

TAIPEI, Taiwan — A powerful 6.4-magnitude earthquake rocked southern Taiwan on Thursday, causing widespread damage and disrupting communications around the island. Local news reports said several people were injured.

The quake was centered in the county of Kaohsiung, and struck at a depth of about 3.1 miles (5 kilometers). Kaohsiung is about 249 miles (400 kilometers) south of the capital Taipei.

No tsunami alert was issued.

27 February 2010 – State of Catastrophe Declared
in Chile After Massive 8.8-Magnitude Quake,2933,587565,00.html

CHILE — Chile’s president declared a state of catastrophe in the aftermath of a massive 8.8-magnitude earthquake Saturday that left bodies, crumbled buildings and outages in its wake.

Chile’s interior minister says at least 214 people had been found dead as of Saturday afternoon, and the pre-dawn quake, the most powerful quake to hit the country in a half century, also cut electricity, water and phone lines to many outlying areas, meaning there was no immediate word of death or damage there.

The quake also unleashed a tsunami across the ocean, putting much of the Pacific Rim on alert for potentially devastating waves.

12 January 2010 – A massive 7.0-magnitude earthquake has struck the Caribbean nation of Haiti

HAITI — The quake, which struck about 15km (10 miles) south-west of Port-au-Prince, was quickly followed by two strong aftershocks of 5.9 and 5.5 magnitude. The tremor hit at 1653 (2153 GMT) on Tuesday, the US Geological Survey said. Phone lines to the country failed shortly afterwards.

There is still no official word on casualties and the extent of the devastation is only now becoming clearer with dawn breaking

HAITI — Tuesday afternoon, January 12th, the worst earthquake in 200 years – 7.0 in magnitude – struck less than ten miles from the Caribbean city of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The initial quake was later followed by twelve aftershocks greater than magnitude 5.0. Structures of all kinds were damaged or collapsed, from shantytown homes to national landmarks. It is still very early in the recovery effort, but millions are likely displaced, and thousands are feared dead as rescue teams from all over the world are now descending on Haiti to help where they are able. As this is a developing subject, I will be adding photos to this entry over the next few days, but at the moment, here is a collection of photos from Haiti over the past 24 hours.